On the Internet, everybody's a sit-down comic
Erin Ryan has more than a thousand followers on the popular femblog Jezebel.com, which would be a lot for anyone on the Internet but is really a lot considering that she's not one of the site's bloggers; she's merely one of the site's anonymous commenters, responding to posts with dry, breezy one-liners that one reads and thinks: "Withering."
Reprinting them here would be utterly pointless -- things taken out of context and preceded with "This is hysterical!" never, ever translate. Suffice it to say, 1,000 random people like Ryan's stuff, and the blogosphere isn't known for its charity.
"I've definitely gotten better at knowing what works," says Ryan, whose day job is in finance. In the beginning she was all over the place. "Now my sense of humor is sharper and to the point." She agonizes over sentence construction and word choice; she hears from old friends who say, "I didn't remember you as so witty!"
The Internet is making us lots of things -- attention suckers, drama queens, Nosey Parkers, stupid.
Is it also making us witty?
It is, after all, the capital of the the one-liner, the brief dose of snark that reflects our tsetse fly attention span. There is the Tweet. The message board comment. The Facebook status update, which newcomers to the site wield with embarrassing banality. Gillian is folding laundry and watching Jim mow the lawn!
But the newbie will improve, because the Internet one-liner comes with instant grading systems, from the Retweet to the elegant "Liking" of the status update. Eventually, through endless feedback, Gillian is going to understand that no one "likes" her lawn mower.
"Humor is the pre-identified currency online," says David Karp, founder of the microblogging site Tumblr.com, or, as Wired's Scott Brown calls it in his essay on comedy and the Internet, the "Lingua Franca" of the wired world. Failed attempts at it are met with vicious mockery and so entire pockets of the Internet turn into humor boot camps. Make us laugh, or leave.
This order is explicit on Gawker Media, the eight-site conglomerate that includes Jezebel. Commenters on all Gawker sites must "audition" before they're allowed to post anything, and approval can be revoked at the whim of the editors for being "excessively self-promotional, obnoxious, or even worse, boring," according to the site's FAQs. "There will be no warning, and no appeal."
Richard Lawson says, "You have to train with the best." While working in ad sales, he rose from the ranks of Gawker commenter to moderator to editor, and is now a columnist for TV.com. "On a couple of occasions of strange nostalgia I've tried to find the original comments I wrote for Gawker," Lawson says. "God, they're not funny at all."
Maybe Lawson needed nothing more than a little practice to become a fountain of splendid one-liners. But what about the rest of us non-gifted schlubs, the ones who are only "funny" in the sense that we stockpile catchphrases from "30 Rock" and fling them out at random (Live every week like it's Shark Week!).